Festive Feelings

Christmas came and went on a sofa with a lot of NBA.

(Read: I went to my relatives' place and spent Christmas on the sofa reading books, and for various reasons there was a lot of NBA on TV)
I finally finished Unbroken Arrow : Sentou Yousei Yukikaze. If Good Luck was that mind.blown. experience Unbroken Arrow was OMFG MY MIND WAS BLOWN SO HARD I CAN'T FIND MY FACE. *cue Hollywood blockbuster explosion scene*
It was fantastic.
And I also read the 'understanding Sumo' book which made me want to see sumo even more. I want to put my new knowledge to use.
It was freakking fantastic.

But it doesn't feel very end-of-the-year, probably because I'm not with family at the moment.
In Japan, Christmas is generally considered the party with friends/a 'couple' thing, since there really isn't that religious resonance as much as in North America. It's an excuse to party.
The family gathering event is the new years (well, starting from new year's eve, or even earlier, depending on your schedule).
So basically, it's the flip side of North America. From what I understand, new years' here is when you get spectacularly drunk and can't leave parties early, and Christmas is the traditional family gathering with a lot of turkey.
Not that there isn't a lot of partying on new years' in Japan (there is), but most involve countdown concerts, or going to temples or shrines for hatsumoude (the first visit of the year). And anyway, partying is most often amongst family. It's kind of an obligatory thing to visit family at the new year's, like Christmas family visits in North America.
With my family, it was mostly just laying around in the living room watching the countdown on TV, then I'd stay awake reading my book while everyone went to sleep.

So, what I mean is family interaction really determines that end-of-year feeling.
Though I don't have that this year (staying in Toronto), it's balanced out by how excited I am to start reading Nuribotoke no Utage: Utage no Shimatsu in a few days.


Books I Got

So I ended up ordering the sumo book and the Natsuhiko Kyougoku novel, along with several shonen manga because why the heck not.

This week was rather weird, with souvenirs, sushi, Frozen, fire alarm at 8:30 am, pancakes, and a girl complimenting my boots at the mall.

Anyway I am off to read ALL THE BOOKS (ok ok the Hyakki Yakou book #7 I will wait for another week and a half but everything else is fair game).


Books I Want

For the last 6 years I've had my own lonely (but hella fun) tradition of starting on a book from Kyougoku Natsuhiko's Hyakki Yakou series on new year's eve and finishing it on new year's (or at least within that week).
As I've mentioned before, it's a seriously thick book, by Japanese bunko standards. It's a long read. Plus, they're rather terrifying in that Japanese horror genre way, so it's not the nicest thing to read in the dead of night. But it's still a great read, every year. It's that once-a-year treat filled with mystery and intriguing characters and a whole lotta murder.

I'm thinking of buying several books from amazon Japan this year, including Hyakki Yakou book #7 Nuribotoke no Utage: Utage no Shimatsu, for this coming new year's eve.
Other books I'm thinking of ordering are an explanation/commentary book on the rules of Sumo (because duh, sumo), and a novel by Tomihiko Morimi (Uchouten Kazoku). Of course I also want the bunko version of Kaoru Takamura's Haruko Jouka (the hardcover is at home but I what the hell I want them all)...

As per my wishlist, I'm mostly a fiction reader with the occasional thing for non-fiction. I take the bookworm thing from my father's side of the family (which, I admit, I don't know very much about - neither do I about my mother's side, but that's another story).
But I think I'm the only one in the family that actively reads novels and fiction books regularly. Or at least overtly. Or use them as a way to avoid conversation during awkward family reunions during new year's.

Anyway the point is, I really really want to get a hold of the Hyakki Yakou book for this year. I've been slowly going through Unbroken Arrow: Sentou Yousei Yukikaze in my spare time, but it's winter, and that means I'm starting to crave the horror-mystery novel-fueled sleepless new year's eve.

Oh dear, that makes me realize how this year is almost over. Holy cheesecakes.


Old Art, or Lack Thereof

I lost the photos of my high school art project. All I have left are one or two edited pictures. I didn't expect myself to be this bummed about it.
(I even fished out my old computer to see if I had any photos in there - but all I got was a busted back.)

As much as I am fully aware of the extent of my artistic talent (which is abysmal), I must say I quite like art and drawing. High school was a highly disturbing time of self-awareness, and I vented a lot of it out through the IB visual art program. (It was then that I realized I pretty much suck at art, but might be good at research.)
I did what I wanted -to various levels of success- and was able to justify what I wanted. It was a good feeling.

Thinking back about my projects, it's surprising that what I'm interested in really hasn't changed since then. The theme/topics I chose were very... haphazard and not uniform, but they were all reflections of my areas of interest and therefore in a coherent list, in my head.
(Flowers, manga/comics, the aestheticism movement in Japanese literature, eyes, selfhood and identity, Japanese culture (from youkai to smoking to whales... I developed an irrational sense of fear towards whales because I researched about them and stared at photos for too long) etc.)

I threw out a majority of the actual art pieces when I finished school, but I did keep my work book. All of a sudden I want to revisit it, see how my brain processed things back then. Also for the information because a lot of them are relevant to some of my more recent stuff.
...I never expected that rainy, lonely visit to the Salt and Tobacco Museum in Shibuya to be of interest to me 7 years in the future.


Black Friday or the Day I Avoid Shopping

I went to the One of a Kind Christmas Show this afternoon and saw a lot of cool stuff. And a lot more people. It was actually a pleasant experience, reminding me of the events I used to go in Japan. Oh, how time flies.
Anyway, I was in a pretty big crowd amidst a lot of stuff, but it was controlled and calm, people were enjoying their time.

So today is Black Friday. Hell, I love a good sale as much as the next person, but I don't deal well with crowds. Definitely not the chaotic, adrenaline-pumping Black Friday event that I've been told about and warned about in the news. To try and shop amidst a huge crowd of other determined shoppers sounds tiring and horrific. The mild claustrophobia and obsession with personal space really doesn't help.

But actually, this Black Friday shenanigan reminds me very much of what happens at New Year's in Japan (well, technically a few days after New Years when the stores open). I've never participated in the hatsu-uri (first sale) events and fukubukuro (blind bag) sales, but judging from the news footage I'd see every year, Black Friday seems very much like it. I mean, the shoppers there are so determined. Lining up in front of the store at early morning-level of focused.
I never really could keep up with that sort of spirit... I'm more of a "walk around the mall alone for 3 hours to compare prices and end up not buying anything" type of shopper.

The point is, this kind of shopping event is a high-stress deal regardless of country. And I like to stay away from it.

(And no, online shopping is not an option for me. I still feel mildly uncomfortable with online shopping, for some strange reason.)


An Observation

I'm sitting at a Second Cup. I really want to go to Ikea.
On a different note, I am wholeheartedly regretting my last post. I think you can tell I'm not necessarily the most creative (or interesting) person. I'm no storyteller.

So today, I'll try a bit of observation. I'm sitting facing a window.

It's not facing the busy side of the street, but rather, one of those bleak roads that make a perpendicular cross against the big, busy street. There are lots of things - a pizza store in the corner, giant buildings, a fire hydrant. So maybe there aren't that many things. But it's not vacant. It just feels very vacant. Maybe it's the lack of traffic in comparison to the main road. Maybe it's the faceless gray drab of an exterior that's right in front of me. It's an apartment building with a four-story parking lot. The neon colors of the pizza place next door really doesn't help liven things up. Instead, it blends (neon colors usually shouldn't mix so well with gray). It triggers no spark in my eye.
The sky isn't heavy, but rather a vacant hole. It's not even gray like the parking lot. It's white. If you look closely enough it's probably one of those really really light shades of gray (I mean, there's fifty shades of gray out there, if not more). But at the moment I'm too lethargic to pull out a color swatch and determine its precise color code. Or whatever that thing is that people use to find the perfect paint. It's probably used a lot in hospital bathrooms.
And now, there's a milk-grey truck right in my face. The color of soft steel. Oh well, it probably has a hint of green in it. It's still gray to me.
The drink I ordered sloshes in my mouth and down my throat. It leaves a clenching feeling in my throat muscles, protesting against the sugar. It's a white chocolate latte, I think. North America and their flavored lattes. It fascinates me. Especially the winter kind.
A few more cars, a bright yellow school bus, and still the van hasn't moved. (truck? van? I can't tell them apart)
It's an odd time of the day, where normal people are still working or at school.
I'm not.
A dude lit a cigarette as he walked by. I don't know why he stood out, I guess it reminded me of... I think of my many friends who smoke (most I've lost touch with, only a few I still talk to). Not necessarily any one of them in particular.
My parents used to smoke. They quit when I was born.
I change the song on my ipod to some 80s Jpop. Eiichi Ohtaki is fan-frickin-tastic (check out his album, A Long Vacation - it's been my jam for a while). Despite the song being very summery and cheerful, soft and warm in my ears with the residue of cultural currency, it's still monotonous and drab outside.
Hah, funny. The lyrics just right now was "memories are monochrome" (from Kimi ha Tennenshoku).
But on second thought, I think it's slightly lighter outside. Just a hint. There's that slight strain in the back of the eyeballs, on the underside of the sphere, that pulls at a nerve in frustration. Yes, defintely. Just a hint lighter.
And it suddenly dawns on me that this is very fun. To put abstract thought into words. Unbroken Arrow: Sentou Yousei Yukikaze waxed poetic (in the most efficient, objective voice, of course) about how language is another filter, that true thought is somewhere beyond words. Words are putting those thoughts into coherent clusters, a code, that other people can interpret. I'm totally paraphrasing, but the van in front of me has not moved an inch.
I think the driver left. Oh, wait. Driver's back.

And finally, the van moved. I think I'm done for now.
Or is it a truck?


A Bit of TMI Tuesday

There is no sign of a road.
Surely, but surely there has to be one. (What am I standing on, then?)
Everything is dark and there is a dampness in the air like it's been raining, maybe an hour or two ago, the moisture just starting to dry from the ground. No light shines to lead her way. But at least her eyes seem to be adjusting, since she can now see her sneaker-clad feet. She takes a harder look at what's under her shoes and sees that it's concrete. Probably. It feels hard enough.
A tentative step forward, the soles of her feet barely leaving the ground. The rubber sole makes a scuffling sound, faint. Another step forward, and another, leads to another, until she's walking in a slow half-shuffle. Very, very slowly. But moving nonetheless. Nothing has come to harm her (yet), and the ground hasn't suddenly sprouted fangs and a black hole to suck her in and chew her to bits. It seems safe enough to walk, with adequate caution. It was better than standing there, still on the outside and flipping in the inside, worried and frightened and absolutely helpless.
The concrete ground kept stretching out in front of her. There seems to be no right way, no direction, no due course. She wasn't sure if her feet, no longer dragging the soles, were moving straight. Maybe she was going in circles and she didn't even know it. Or straight into a monster's trap. No answers lay conveniently in front, or anywhere in the surrounding. Which was still dark and ambiguous by the way, not unnerving at all.
She shook her head. Why fool herself when there was no one else. But it wasn't easy to let herself succumb to it, when her own pride was still around and kicking (damn this hyperactive self-consciousness).

It feels like forever and a half of walking, nothing in her ears except her own footsteps, sometimes shuffling, sometimes a staccato, always nervous.
Until there are things in her line of sight. Some books. A CD. Several pens and an ugly little cell phone (the one you actually open and close and the display is tiny). It had been a long time since her eyes focused on something that wasn't herself. Her back creaks, and the muscle in her legs are taut in an uncomfortable twist as she crouches down. She picks the objects up, one by one, with uncertain fingers. A notebook. A watercolor set. They all feel cold to the touch. Lonesome, even. A mechanical pencil with blue-colored lead. Christmas gift wrap. Her hands were slowly, but surely, filling up.
Suddenly she's bombarded by sound. And light. A lot of light. It's as if someone finally realized the computer screen was asleep and hastily jabbed random keys to get it back on (oh, and the mute button was on, too, gotta undo that). And as much as she's immensely happy to see other people (it never occured to her that she missed people), it unnerves her.
They were there, all along, and she didn't notice them.
(A prideful, spiteful voice whispered, no one reached out to you, either, but that was easily dismissed.)
So she wasn't exactly going in a circle, or a straight line. She turned around for the first time to see a faint zig-zag pattern glowing through the crowds, cleanly avoiding collision with anything and anyone. It was a very deliberate, and calculated path.
The things she carried, now, seemed irrelevant. They were relics, in comparison to what was surrounding her. She drops them all to the ground, and tries to mingle. "Tries" is the key word. Sure, people respond to her comments (when she actually made them), and some would tilt their head from a distance in acknowledgement. But she was hopeless at keeping contact, at being normal (that much she could tell from the disgruntled look in their eyes, the barely concealed downwards turn of their lips). Dread, fear, and incompetence wells up from her stomach to clog her soft insides, fitfully clenching at her heart. So much, that the weight of it pulls at her hair in ruthless fistfuls as if to rip them right off, forcing her eyes to the ground for a long time. When she finally gains composure to look up, their faces are all plain and unreadable. Porcelain, ceramics, clay. So beautiful, yet hardly attainable.
The lights slowly dim. Or maybe it was quick, she couldn't tell. What was nice, moderate liveliness quickly tune out to the same colorless drab, drowning the buzz of voices and some pop music faint in the distance. She didn't know the song, and it was gone before she could at least give a shot at the title.
After a long time spent staring into space (it was no longer a crowd, no longer anything, really), she starts moving again. This time, the darkness was comforting. Her posture more upright, with sure footsteps, eyes down to the ground. Familiar and silent. The air was cool and soft to her skin, with a hint of moisture. Nondescript mildness, senses dwindling as a candle burns out in the end. Inevitable, but it was right.

Until there are things in her line of sight. Some books. A CD. Several pens and a square cell phone that looks like a smartphone but isn't (it has a nice keyboard, though).


Tokusatsu (2): The One with Trains

...OK so a looong time ago I promised myself I'd talk a lot more (frequently) about tokusatu. And then I realized my knowledge was incredibly biased and limited, and then I kinda left it at that. Also, not being in the country means I have really limited access to info on the newer stuff.
This weekend, I pulled out my stash of DVDs and watched a bunch of them.
  • Several Japanese films (well, films with Masato Sakai or Hidetoshi Nishijima in it, because that's how I choose my films, obviously).
  • Gundam 00 <First Season>, or the anime that utterly broke my senior year to shreds. *weeps in a corner and eats chocolate*
  • Slam Dunk - BEST SPORTS MANGA EVAR. I will fight you for Jin-san. I swear.
and then,
  • Kamen Rider Den-O
Kamen Rider Den-O was aired in 2007-8, in the now famous Super Hero Time slot on TV Asahi. And as the title so clearly implies, it is a part of the major tokusatsu TV series, the Kamen Rider series.
I won't go into details or about how intensely I obsessed over it in senior year, because I will go on forever (or very close to it). This is my absolute favorite Kamen Rider title of all time.
What got me was the intensity of the story - seriously, this was really deep for a 7:30am kids' show - and the characters. Time travel, paradoxes, sci-fi, life and death, consequences, the importance of memory... This was the first show that I ever really considered the importance of the screenwriter in a television series.
Yasuko Kobayashi (the lead writer) simply stunned me. I loved the way she wrote Hana and Kohana and all the girls. She was also incredible in Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (Super Sentai series), but that's another story.

Oh, and how fun it was. Den-O was intense and there were lots of drama and sadness and plots that were waaaaay too intricate for a 10 year old, but it was incredibly fun. Every week was so entertaining and gripping, it got me incredibly invested. It was clear the writer(s) knew the characters very well. They were treated with care and so much respect. I guess that's what really got me invested. Every character was so distinct and flawed and real (sure a bunch of them weren't human but hey, anything goes). Everyone had their own goals, their own worldview, their stake and meaning.
(This also goes to how Yasuko-nyan wrote Shinkenger - her characters are all so incredibly "human" and incredibly appealing.)

My favorite character? Urataros, hands down. I love that sneaky turtle.


Yukikaze (2nd time) and Adaptations

So I did start reading Sentou Yousei Yukikaze after Liou, and finished it this weekend. It was fantastic, just as I remembered it - if not even better. Currently reading through the second book, and it's really really good.

The story is about alien invasions, sadness, language, computers, and human nature. It's a deep kind of book. Philosophical, even.

Before I read the book, I watched the OVA adaptation back in 2009 or so. I watched it for Masato Sakai who voiced Rei (the protagonist).
And then I forgot about it... until I bought the novel last year on a whim. It was interesting to realize how the OVA staff interpreted the novel(s) (the sequel I'm reading right now is also incorporated) to make something quite different, in a good way.

Now that I know a little better about production and whatnot, I can totally understand why the OVA cut out a lot from the novel. For example there's a chapter in the first book that gives a lot of insight into the setting (also one of the saddest chapters, and a personal favorite). But I can understand how that story wouldn't translate well into an animated medium, since it's so internal dialogue-heavy and very little 'action' occurs. It's a slow and sad chapter.

I'm not sure if I would have had a different reaction to the OVA if I read the book first. I can see how a hardcore fan of the novel might have things to say about the OVA. But because I already liked the OVA before I knew the 'original', I think it was easier for me to make a clear distinction between them as independent things - connected, but still separate from one another.

Adaptations are a really finicky thing, deciding who to target, what stays or what goes, tone and visuals, gauging the reaction of the original fans...

Oh, and Warner Bros. optioned the book for a movie adaptation or something. Tom Cruise is attached. I kinda flipped when I read this back in April, since I'm now incredibly invested in this novel series (and I love the OVA), I have extremely high expectations. I'm intrigued yet worried, feeling generally conflicted. Because five 1h animation installments are one thing, live-action feature films is another.


Flip Side of a Coin

Uh ok confession time. I got myself utterly, completely hooked on Person of Interest in the past 2 weeks. I haven't been this obsessed with a North American TV series since 2011 when I tumbled down the path that was Criminal Minds (well, I recently had a Call the Midwife marathon, but that was a British show...).

So after I fangirl-screeched through S1 (currently fangirl-gurgling through S2), I decided to read what Japanese fans had to say.
(PoI had been released on cable channels previously. But S1 aired on regular ground-wave digital channels (long story) this summer and fans were pretty excited about that.)
I was immensely intrigued by some people pointing out the difference in the word choice of the subs and dubs (in Japanese) and the original language (in English).
For example, when Mr. Finch is referred to as 'the little guy', apparently the word choice in the Japanese dubs has a much cuter, even more colloquial tone than that. I think it's adorable and funny. Sure, it's not the same meaning or connotation, and it doesn't exactly capture the connection between the characters, but it's another interpretation, another perspective. And that's so much fun to think about.

You can say implications and meanings are lost in translation because of the difficulty in getting from one language to another. I felt that a lot when doing my own translation work or writing.

But on the flip side, it means it had to be culturally filtered to make that word/phrase fit the language - therefore 'gaining' a new meaning, in a way.
You can say things are lost, a bad thing - or you can say gained, to have another angle to look from. It's just how you wish to see it.
And I realized I don't have to be too negative about how translations work out.
But I do understand I have the advantage of knowing both languages and therefore possible to weigh all the angles and decide for myself (which makes things fun, but other times so much more infuriating and frustrating).

What's lost in translation is interesting - but what's (inevitably, subconsciously) added in translation is just as intriguing.

The heart of the matter is that I really really want to get the Japanese version box set, for the subs and dubs.


Friends, Hoodies, and 7kg Turkeys

Yesterday was my 6th Canadian Thanksgiving spent in Toronto, but my first ever meaningful Thanksgiving spent with friends that I care about (a lot)... and a 7kg turkey, amongst other awesome foods.

Yes, a 7kg turkey. There's a story to that but it's not mine to tell.
All I can say is that the 3.5h wait was very, very worth it.
The point is that this Thanksgiving, I was really thankful that I had people to spend it with. And good food surely helped.
There were episodes of Friends and The Simpsons involved, too.

I've been in a very sort of nostalgic, reflective mood a lot. Having a great (well, the best) Thanksgiving with friends seems to have spurred it a little further.
It's starting to really hit me that I've been here for 5 years (and steadily moving through my 6th). It's been quite a long time since I moved here. Time files.
My first 4 years here (in undergrad) had been a tumultuous experience - in terms of personal issues - so much, that since I graduated, I really wanted nothing to do with university life. No more old class notes, no hoodies, no backpacks, nothing that would remind me of all the personal things that happened in those years.

Today, I wore an old UofT hoodie that I've been neglecting since last June. It's a bit chilly, but not cold enough for a jacket.


Fantasy or Reality?

Escaping into fantasies are a quick, easy, (and cheap) way to kill time.
Or procrastinate.

Lately I've been back at my novel project (or a 10-page throw-up of words (double spaced) that resemble something like one) from school. Yeah, we all had to write a fraction of a novel that had to be all outlined and scaffolded in a short period of time. Fun times.
Anyway, I can't stop thinking about it.
But I feel like I'm stuck in that never-ending cycle of thinking and planning. And fact-checking. So I'm actually not getting any real writing done.
The problem is that I want to set it in a particular historical point in time. In my over-nitpickiness I keep on researching, and fall into a pit of self-doubt. But there's nothing stopping me from making something more fantasy-esque - this is a work of fiction, after all.

The problem, I guess, is that it's really hard for me to make compromises between fantasy and reality in story-writing, such as "come up with a fake suburban town in Alberta to set my story". I start thinking where it is, at what point does it come into contact with real areas and real people, how much of the real world impacts it, what do the neighbors think of the area, what is its history... If I think of something, I have to think it through as in all the way through like the hole in a doughnut. There's no point in a doughnut if it has no hole to make it a ring (I have a honey cruller in the fridge, btw, saving it for tomorrow).
And as much as it's fun to world-build, it bothers me a lot to forge something like a 'fake' town into 'reality' - like jamming an extra piece of a puzzle when it's already completed. It's that kind of uneasiness I feel, like I'm intruding or being awfully impolite. Even though it's a completely fictional piece of writing, I still feel very guilty.

I know I know, no one bloody cares about stupid writing problems on my sloppy excuse for a novel that's never seeing the light of day, but I have nothing else to say today.
Really. I don't.
Except for stupid medical problems and how pumpkin spice muffins at Timmy's are awesomesauce and a vague love-hate relationship with receipts.



Whoa. A full month of silence.
There's been a lot of ups and downs, and it's an incredibly stressful time right now. Yeah, being an international student sucks. Bureaucracy. Bleargh.
But no point in dwelling on that. Let's switch topics.

I see a lot of my highschool friends (...well, classmates? acquaintances?) in my dreams, despite the fact that I am no longer close with a good 90% of my friends from my schooldays in Japan. It's probably because a lot of stuff happened in those years (from middle to highschool) and they probably subconsciously symbolize the issues I still carry from those days.

And sometimes, I genuinely wonder how they would react to the person that I am today.

Because in all honesty, I was a total wreck n' absolute mess back from middle school to high school. In the "crazy self-centeredness and identity confusion" sense.
Retrospect is a sobering thing to have.
You look back and see all the problems, and they're no longer mysteries. It's crystal clear... more or less. You can at least identify what was wrong with you (because in my case, a lot of the problems generated from my own insecurities).
Aaaand then I fight the crazy urge to bury my head in a pot of coffee and knock myself out because those 5 or 6 years are the most embarrassing years of my life.
I did stupid things, I was not a happy person to be around.

But in this time of stress and life-changing stuff, I think that, y'know, I like myself way better now than I did back then. Of course I have a long way to go. I still have my giant list of flaws and several baskets full of issues. But I'm in a better place - emotionally - than ever before.

To sum it up I guess I sort of miss my highschool days, but I sort of don't. Maybe it's that I finally realized I've grown up somewhat, and want to make amends with that crazy period of my life. Apologize. Repent.


Liou (6th time)

YEEEEAHHH I finally, finally finished reading Liou for the 6th time!
It took me nearly 5 months to finish (I started around April), this is definitely the longest it's taken me. I had my own ritual going these last few years where I'd read Liou in April, but this year school and stuff happened (whereas in the past I'd be in summer vacation), so I read bit by bit when I had the time.

So. Yeah. 6th time.
It amazes me every time how I have a different reaction to different scenes with each read-through. I guess it comes with age.
I first read the book in the autumn of 2009, and it's been 4 years. Strange to say, but I've come a long way since then and I definitely have different perspectives on things. Like the book's treatment of family, women, and racial tensions - compared to when I first read the book, I sure react differently now.

For example, the female characters - at first, I was not very responsive to them. But now (and also in the last few read-throughs), I feel much more sympathetic and close to these extremely flawed, complex, real women. I'm at the point where I feel these women were not treated well - as much as I know she's (the author's) making a point in the story, it's still kinda sad.

But despite all that I may think and react, it was still a wonderful read.
I have a lot of YA and middle-grade books I have on my bookshelf that I want to read, but I'm still in that Japanese phase right now. I feel like starting Chouhei Kambayashi's Good Luck - Sentou Yousei Yukikaze. However it's been over a year since I finished the first book (Sentou Yousei Yukikaze) and I've forgotten a huge chunk of it. Maybe a re-read?
So many books, so little time...


Being Sick Sucks

Right what it says on the cover.
So I caught a cold. I think the last time I was this visibly sick was since... that time I got food poisoning in April. That was a horrible day, but that's for later. I think the last actual cold was in October, or that ambiguously unwell day in May (not sure if that was stress or a real cold). The last 6 days have been varying degrees of "wow I want to punch a hole in my head because I feel so terrible".

And finally, I feel mostly human again. Yay.

What I want to say is, if it's a sore throat/phlegm-y/lung-hacking cough-a-thon of a cold, gargle salt water. I read it somewhere on the internet a while back and decided to try it on a desperate attempt to do anything that would make me feel better, and it worked. It really works to help get that gross stuff out of your system.
That and peppermint tea saved me these last few days when the cold moved from fever to throat. (But since I was super craving for peppermint tea, I went out to the supermarket to get some while I was still unwell and managed to get myself sicker. So that was a no-no.)

This has been a quality post. Only not really.


Tactile and Music

I know it's the same old excuses, but yes, life is at another turning point and things are busy. Just recently (read: last Friday), I finished my year at the Children's Entertainment program, and have started freelancing (read: 'holy cow I'm an adult now how does this work?!').

...oh, and what a crazy year it was. Sure, it had its ups and downs. A LOT of ups and downs. But when I look back and think about it, I seriously had a whole lotta fun with the best bunch of people I had the amazing privilege of becoming friends with. It was easily the best year of my life.

So, enough of me being sad and sappy. Today is another music kind of day.

I came across this music video on tumblr back in March, and fell in love with everything about it so much I was practically speechless for a good while.
Yeah, I treated myself to his CD ("In Focus?") very soon afterwards.
Shugo Tokumaru is, simply put, amazing! I don't think I fell in love this fast with a musician since... well, maybe that one time in 2010 when I had an inexplicable The Doors obsession, but that's a long story.
The music video is insanely awesome. Just watch. It's so cool.
But it's his music that I want to talk about today - not just this song, but all of his music.
What I fell in love with was his selection and combination of disparate sounds, and how they come together so well to create melody. And his voice, the way he lets his words flow out of his mouth... There's something inexplicably soft and fleeting yet undeniably present, like fine wool teased out and draped over your eyes. Also, sometimes, even I find it hard to decipher what the lyrics are - and I'm Japanese. But I guess it's ok, because I enjoy listening to how his voice rolls along the rest of the music in a cascading flow of sound. When I stop at times to let the lyric part sink in, it's all the more mesmerizing.

When I listen to his music, it makes me think of a river made of glass beads, wooden puzzle pieces, toys, cotton, metal cans, and a sweeping spiral staircase. All the components are distinct with individual textures, yet melding in all the right places. And it's tumbling down a waterfall in a curtain of light and dark and sound.
I also love some of his more mellow, darker songs that feels like velvet running through a forest or a mountain, with a trail of senkou hanabi (a tiny, hand-held, flickering firework) tiptoeing in its wake.
It's very tactile. Maybe that's why I love it so much.

And I have a very weird, long-winded, and unhelpful way of explaining things.
I've always struggled with "conciseness and clarity" when it comes to writing.


Commitment Issues and The End

I have big, and I mean BIG commitment issues when it comes to finishing a TV show. Namely, I barely finish a season of a TV show, especially North American/English TV. I just can't explain why... um, I have a short attention span?
It's not like I don't have the time - if I really wanted to, I could easily cut back on sleep and watch a show, marathon a series in one go. But for some reason it just hasn't happened very frequently.

And then I thought back to my anime watching. In the past 2 months, I have successfully watched the entirety of Fate/Zero, Baccano!, and Mouryou no Hako (the last two were re-watches, though). Maybe it's the 30-minute timeframe that grabs my attention better?

Then I thought about the difference in story and structure - especially the ending of a show/season. North American/English shows (S1) are usually made with the assumption and hope that a S2 or more will be made, so season finales are often cliffhangers or some mystery. And the desire to continue and 'become successful' means almost every season finale is like that.
On the other hand, Japanese TV (including anime) are mostly made with a definite ending in mind. The audience goes in to a show expecting a clear ending that wraps everything up, a story that is self-contained. 'Success' of a TV show is not necessarily defined by a sequel/subsequent seasons.

There are pros and cons to both types of structures/ending - but I guess that knowledge of working towards a definite end appeals to me more than the possibility of longevity, only because that's the kind of media I've been exposed to most.


Summer's the Time for...

Japan has a tradition for telling ghost stories in the summer to keep you cool - the scary stories that sends chills down your spine are supposedly effective to beat off the summer heat. (I don't get chills I get scared that's what)

I've mentioned a while back about the 'oh holy John Belushi on a pogo stick' levels of absolute NO I have towards the horror and gore genre.
I don't like scary things in general - I'm a real wuss, I know.

But I do have exceptions... sort of?
I love Natsuhiko Kyougoku's famous Hyakki Yakou series, which is a mystery novel series that's so thick you can hit someone on the head and probably knock them unconscious. It's not necessarily horror per se, but I think it somewhat comes close. It's definitely scary, deals with really freaky things. There's girls' bodies stuffed in boxes, a lady who's been pregnant for twenty months, a husband who keeps coming back alive no matter how many times the wife kills him, a mass murder in a temple... it's hard to explain, it's very Japanese in its sensibilities and aesthetics and sense of unease. And I love it.
As much as I can't do horror or gore, I love reading the spooky, eerie stories with crazy murder scenarios. I tend to deal better with horror/scary stuff in prose. I can't do horror films and such...
Hell, I even hesitated to watch Paranorman (which was awesome by the way).

I guess the point today is as much as I can't deal with one thing, there's always exceptions and specific boundaries.


Anna Finally Finishes Fate/Zero

(or: Anna Tries To Go See Pacific Rim But Fails Due To Bad Weather)

I actually finished S1 (the first 13 episodes) of Fate/Zero in mid-June.
Yeah. Mid. June. And after that, I didn't have the chunk of time to binge on the last 12 episodes.
The plan for Friday (yesterday) was to go see Pacific Rim with a friend. So we bought tickets, went to a diner to kill time before the movie, and then a thunderstorm came. Well, it wasn't so bad, but I was a bit worried of the off chance that it did get bad (Toronto got hit with a really bad storm just last week and that was still fresh in everyone's minds), so we got our tickets refunded and went home. So I had no plans for the night.
Why not finish Fate/Zero?

...I'm not going to spoil it, but holy crackers, it was good. The series was recommended very strongly by my writing teacher, and I am very glad that she introduced it to me. Because it's so darn good.
Why it was so darn good: The writing was definitely awesome, and each episode was really intense. There was no scene or action wasted, everything was thought-out and had a purpose. Plus, the characters were all fascinating. It was hard not to get invested in everyone, even the 'bad' characters, because they were all developed so well, with such distinct voices. Everyone had their story, their purpose, their throughline, and it all worked together so well.

Conclusion: I feel like I've burned myself out, it was so intense. But now I want to re-watch the entire thing and cry over it again.


From one to the other

As a part of the Children's Entertainment program I'm in, there's a course on children's books. I'm writing (well, writing samples of) a middle-grade fiction book, and it's really hard. Since I'm basing the story in Japan (that's no surprise), there are obviously many things like specific words and jargon and turn-of-phrases that I want to use to express something in particular. 
Today's theme is something about translation and expression.

I'm no writer, so I knew this was going to be hard, but not this hard. Whenever I write a sentence, I have to make sure I'm explaining things clearly when I could easily explain that in a single word (with all the specific nuances) if it were in Japanese. For instance, how a wall looks. "Plaster" or "stucco" just doesn't feel right for me, even when it's a direct (and correct) translation of shikkui.

This sort of "knowing what it is in one language but not the other" really makes it hard to succinctly express whatever I want to say or convey. Recently I've been lucky to have several one-off translating/interpreting gigs, but with every job it really hits me that languages and their subtleties are so different, and some things just don't translate well. I'm aware that I don't have the kind of mastery of a true native-speaker with either language (English/Japanese), so even when I see translations that don't correlate with the original text, I'm incapable of making a decent fix.

Well, this turned out kinda downer-y.
But I guess what I want to say is (a) translation is hard and (b) utmost respect to the professional translators out there because language is such a subtle and sensitive subject.



Natsu - Summer
Bate - (rhymes with latte) a short-from of the colloquial verb 'bateru', to be tired and worn out

'Natsu-bate' - my current situation.

I've been worn down by the heat. I know it sounds like an excuse...
Since I grew up in Japan, people often point out that Japan is more humid and hot than Toronto "so summer here (in Toronto) shouldn't be that bad".
Wrong. Maybe it's because I was born in the winter-time, maybe it's not. But the thing is that I've had a tough time during summers in Japan, and Canadian summers are no different.

Natsu-bate is the phrase that sums up the general bleargh feeling and lethargy and mild unwellness that stems from the heat during the summer.

But there are things I'm liking about summer in Toronto, this year.
I went to the Gay Pride Parade (it was a great day, though I could barely see the actual parade from behind the huge crowd), I'm loving the sweetened iced teas, I love the long days, and my eyes have been opened to how awesome a sangria tastes in the outdoor patio (with a giant plate of nachos, please and thank you).

So yeah. Conflicting emotions about summer. But I hope my body will get out of the sick natsu-bate-ness anyway. I have a busy week coming up...


There's something about Jazz

Things have been a bit busy lately.

So this seems completely unrelated but I used to play the alto sax for 8 years, starting that fateful day in 5th grade all the way until I graduated high school.
(I haven't even touched my alto sax since then I want to cry)

Jump forward to yesterday, I was looking for some background music to work to on youtube and I came across this gem:

Yup, it's a jazz interpretation of my favorite Rurouni Kenshin op song "1/2".
I was blown away. It was such an unexpected kind of interpretation, and yet it worked so well. SO. GOOD. I was listening to that all day as I worked on stuff.

And it brought me back to the good ol' days (not really) of my sax-playing years. I was in band, but I was also in jazz band for about a little over half that time, and so I love the feeling of small groups, lots of brass, smooth and kick-butt awesome. But when I think about it, I played in jazz band for a good several years, but I haven't listened to much jazz (I'm more of a mindless Jpop and endless anime song type of person). The only jazz fever I had consciously listened to was back in middle grade when I for some strange reason I can't remember went all over Chet Baker (I still have my cds back home).

Anyway. I can't really put a finger on it, but there's something about jazz that makes me feel all good and happy. Maybe it's simply nostalgia, maybe I just really love brass. If I had to admit, jazz isn't my favorite genre and I don't listen to it a lot even today (I love it, but I have other stuff up in that list I gotta prioritize). But every now and then, I like to pull myself out of my current 'everyday' and let myself roll around in vague memories and smooth brass.

There's no real beginning middle or end to this post. I just felt like rambling.


Anna Watches 3 TV Shows In One Night: A Summary

So for various reasons I watched an episode each of Orphan Black, Lost Girl, and Alias.

(Oh and I also watched a lot of Japan Channel and a bit of Food Network over the weekend and I loooooooved it)

It was quite an eye-opener. Sci-fi and hardcore action and supernatural are around, sure, but not the most popular when it comes to primetime dramas in Japan (exceptions include shows such as Kaibutsu-kun). Sci-fi elements are often limited to the everyday (ie. esp/psychic powers), and less about other worlds/aliens/outer space etc. Don't get me wrong, yohkai (domestic demons/spirits/etc) and stuff are popular, but the 'hardcore scifi' seems rare. Action scenes are also somewhat toned down or pretty much nonexistent. Probably because of budget and TV culture reasons.

What I'm trying to say is primetime drama culture is obviously different. And I've been forgetting that recently.
So yeah. Orphan Black, Lost Girl, and Alias. They all had interesting female leads and that was definitely a pleasant surprise. Never can have enough strong female leads. But what struck me was how 'broken' they had to be in order to be these kickbutt leading ladies. (same goes to many Japanese dramas too)
I know the dramas and conflicts and stories come from those dilemmas, but sometimes it was too much. It's exhausting in an emotional way, biting your nails and going "omfg what's gonna happen to herrrrrrrr". These action/scifi shows were very much like a movie.
Lost Girl was the easiest to watch because it was more lighthearted than the other two shows (at least with the episode I watched). As much as I love dark, gritty stories (bring on the angst!), I know I'm going to invest a lot in it and get emotionally worn out so I tend to stay away from it until I have the time to binge. I've been getting many recommendations for Orphan Black from my friends, so I'll probably plow through it soon.

On a completely unrelated note, my favorite 'North American' drama growing up was ER (long story), and as an adult it's been Criminal Minds (though I haven't seen past S4).


Teen Books

I spent a bit of time over the weekend at the middle-grade fiction and YA section of the bookstore, where I was mistaken for a 12 year old.
Other than that mildly embarrassing incident, it was really interesting to see what was, y'know, popular. In demand.

So today here's a bit of rambling about teen (YA) books.

I often think about (and promptly forget) how there isn't a real big 'teen fiction' market in Japan. Don't get me wrong, teens still read stuff in Japan. Just that a separate prose fiction market hasn't really developed, in my opinion.
I guess the abundance of manga for all ages (ie. older end of shonen/shojo manga are most applicable for teens) is a factor.
Another is the cheapness of paperbacks. Well, they have dust jackets and are called 'bunkobon'. They can range from the niche to paperback editions of popular hardcovers, classical lit to mass entertainment, and the cheapest one is about 5 dollars.
Then there's the 'light novels', which are character-driven, really really entertainment-focused novels that are almost like manga in prose. Those are really fun, but not necessarily for teens - it's probably "for teen and up".

So when I looked at the YA section the other day, it was really interesting to have in front of you all the 'teen stuff' laid out. It's nice to have a section dedicated to the teen market.
I gotta say, sometimes a good vampire, zombie, fallen angel, dead boyfriends, and all that jazz, aren't exactly a bad thing even if you're over the age of 17. Plus, the over-abundance of romance (and often vampires) doesn't negate the fact that a lot of the stories deal with so many things (identity, family relationships, social acceptance...) that are relevant to teens.

As much as I'd love to start reading my multiple YA novels (and one middle-grade book), I feel like I don't have the time... Plus, I'm on my 6th round of Liou (forever my favorite book), so I gotta prioritize that.
I've been in a Japanese kind of mood lately.


Comics and Categories

I'm a manga fanatic, but I also consider myself a reasonably invested North American superhero comic enthusiast.

It must have been some time in 200...3? 4? I went to a bookstore in North America during a family vacation (honestly forgot where we went), and came across some superhero comics. Marvel comics.
Jean-Paul Beaubier stole my heart and has a special seat there forever.
I clearly remember that when school started (this was in middle school), I brought my newly acquired Uncanny X-Men TPB and went "lookie here, friends, this is awesome!" and no one really understood me.

What is really intriguing about comics from North America is that there is a slight gap between the comic world and 'mass entertainment'.
It's such a nebulous and difficult thing to put down in words, but I feel North American comics are very... I don't know. Niche?

Japan has its extensive categorization system according to age and gender lines (shonen/boys, shojo/girls, ippan/seinen/general audience (male)...), and each category reflects a slightly different social reality. Of course there is stigma to breach those lines (especially the gender categories), but there is such a wide variety, and people acknowledge there are 'comics for girls' and 'comics for boys', despite how problematic those gender-bound concepts are. What I'm trying to get at is that, sure there are a bunch of problems (often sexist), but the public is aware and understanding of "comics as a mass entertainment medium for everyone".

In North America, I feel comics are more ambivalent. When I was first exposed to them, I was very surprised to find a gay character (Jean-Paul) in a major role in UXM, as well as how X-Men as a concept dealt with issues like discrimination and oppression. But still, the preconceived 'audience' is staunchly male (hence those weirdly sex-oriented female figures - which I learned was the 'male gaze' several years down the line), and comic-readers in general are considered, y'know, 'geeks'. Sure, superhero comic-based movies are doing fantastic and all that, but the original comics seem to be still a 'niche' thing.
I feel it is hard to categorize yourself as a 'casual reader of comics' in North America. Well, there's that with superhero comics, and then there's graphic novels, which is another interesting and very potent medium.

So after this long and rambly rant, I think what I wanted to say was that North American comics (and graphic novels) - mediums that are not solely reliant on words - is complex and nebulous and I wish there was an easier way for people like me to be exposed to them? Because really, aside from the big names like all the DC and Marvel, it's been hard for me to even find out what I want to read.

I am starting to confuse myself, and therefore I will stop.

((PS: This turned out rather a downer rant in retrospect. I know it's hard to find out what you want to read in the sea of Japanese comics as well, so I guess it's a matter of luck and knowing the language enough to be able to pick and choose and articulate your preferences.))


Sumo and Brand Image

I haven't found the time to watch the official streams for this tournament (curse you, time difference), but I did follow the news through twitter.
And just today, Hakuhou won the May bout/tournament. I have my thoughts (not about him per se, but about the wrestler society in general), but that's for later.
It's absolutely awesome to see that the sumo world is getting back on its feet. Since I got into it right before the scandals of 2010 went haywire, and as the internet saying goes, "things be cray cray", I know what it's like to be in a packed stadium, as well as a sad and empty one. Things were definitely looking up last year when I went to Nagoya (summer 2012), and the way the tickets have been selling the last several tournaments, I think it's safe to say that really, it's going great.

I mean, they have a wicked twitter account (the amount of information and the regularity of their updates are wonderful), they're really trying hard to incorporate a younger audience (those social media tie-up events seem interesting), and the Sumo Association has a sort of partnership with LINE (a popular social media/transmission thing on smartphones - I don't own a smartphone so I don't really get that).
But using that barely unknown pop group to sing an 'official support song' for the Association really doesn't suit the brand image and I vaguely disapprove... ok ok I haven't heard those girls sing or anything, but just, brand image.  

Brand image.

I get social media and LINE because, really, that's the way to go in order to disseminate information in a way that the audience will actually notice and read. But using girls (they're a themed pop group and I just don't get them) in a homosocial, traditional, old-school sport really doesn't fit in. I know they're trying to incorporate some sort of female gaze/presence in a sport where women are literally not allowed on the ring, but young girls in costumes just doesn't seem a proper fit.
Yeah... I'm bitter.
When Momoiro Clover Z (a more mainstream, but a bit niche pop group - I like them) did collaboration promotions with the Sumo Association, it was understandable. Because they weren't directly promoting the Sumo Association, but appearing as guests in regional fan events and such. Sure, they did appear on TV shows/events with the then just-retired Takamisakari (Furiwake Oyakata), but they weren't endorsing something per se (they probably wanted media attention right after his retirement since Furiwake Oyakata was such a fan-favorite wrestler, to fuel buzz for the next tournament).
But to have a barely known pop group directly promoting sumo just doesn't feel right. It alienates me. It brings down the spirituality and exclusivity of the sport a little too close to the lay world. As much as I can see the behind-the-scenes of the sport through twitter and events and whatnot, I can still never be a part of it. The sort of (homosocial) distance, for me, really sells the sport. Having a pop group in that arena really bothers me because it screams of ulterior motives. No. Personally, it doesn't align with the rest of the promotions and media and cultural presence of Sumo.

Maybe I'll change my mind once I hear their song. But I don't really want to?
I hope it's like a Sumo Jinka (traditional songs sung by the wrestlers). Because really, brand image. Sumo is not an arena where pop songs really work, in my opinion.
I just have really confused and conflicted feelings about this ok?
(I just love the sport so much I overreact to things - ugh and I'm not even in the country...)


Shojo Manga and Storytelling

A week or so ago, I was invited over to my friend's place to hang out. There, I pretty much just sat and read "Toward the Terra" vol.1 while my friends were hanging out.
 I had read "Toward the Terra" (Keiko Takemiya) many years ago, possibly during my last year of high school. Yeah, that's a while ago. I remember being intrigued by the TV anime series that aired around that time, and got a hold of the original comics (in Japanese). I think I let go of the comics when I left for Canada.
It surprises me how I could've forgotten. This is such a sophisticated, intense story. And as I reread it, it really hit me how innovative and challenging this must have been in the 70s when it was first released, because it is still so relevant and powerful today.

"Toward the Terra" is an epic science fiction about Jomy, a young boy who is chosen as the leader of the Mu (a race of ESP-powered humans), and his struggles with trying to bring peace between the humans and Mu while simultaneously trying to return to Terra, the homeland. This is mirrored by Keith Anyan's story, who is a 'perfect' human in the human world - he has his own struggles with the government/social organization system that he must confront as he climbs up the social ladder.

There are many heavy themes in the story - social oppression, racism, activism, morality, playing god, ableism, classism, questioning modernization and technology - that are not 'typical' of shojo manga stories. It is about standing up for yourself, about knowing the story of both oppressor and oppressed, and about the strenuous, painful search for identity. It is intense and emotionally charged, and quite possibly trigger-y for some people.
In first semester, I wrote a paper that compared a contemporary shojo manga with a 'classic' shojo manga, Hi Izuru Tokoro no Tenshi (Ryoko Yamagishi). "Toward the Terra" came just before Hi Izuru... and shares the same social background of when shojo manga as a genre was in its formative (and revolutionary) years. The masterpieces from that era introduced innovative storytelling and "unconventional" plot/ stories that deviated from 'normal' shojo manga as if to break free of the constraints of the shojo genre.
"Toward the Terra" is a challenging, intense, and therefore extremely engaging story because it was so fresh and did not pander to the audience (or look down on them). Rather, it presented a social commentary through beautiful and flawed characters that makes it so intriguing and appealing - the readers learn and grow along with the characters as they are led through the futuristic utopic (dystopic?) world.

Now all I want to do is read the entire thing (hopefully in Japanese). Ok maybe I'll give in and just go to the nearest bookstore to get the English version.
((I was pleasantly surprised with the English version I read at my friend's place. The translation was actually quite good! I definitely won't mind reading it in English if it's from that publisher, but I would still prefer the original Japanese one... that's just my personal preference.))


Attack on Titan

I'll watch any anime that interests me - I've never limited myself to shojo or shonen or any genre. But there are, obviously, some things I can't really handle. Horror and gore are two of the biggies.

Right now I've been telling friends, ranting to instructors, and pretty much having an internal fit over the series 'Attack on Titan'(進撃の巨人/Shingeki no Kyojin). It's a shonen manga series that is immensely popular, and right now the anime series is on air.
I've never read it, or watched it, but I've been practically inhaling everything I can on the internet in terms of spoilers and fan interpretations/discussions.
So far, I think the story is fantastic, the setting is so well thought-out, and the characters are really captivating (Levi or Reveille or whatever your English name is, holy possums is his character so enthralling and his design is just fantastic).

But the gore, the violence, makes me go "oh god why why I just can't do this I ca-ahh-n't!!! *sob*". I know it's integral to the story because it's about survival, the frailty of humanity, sins, and the condition of man. It gets quite gritty and philosophical. But personally, it's just...
The designs of the 'giants' makes me want to scream and cry. I'm not kidding.

And the anime series looks fabulous. The quality is amazing, and the opening song is so darn perfect I got goosebumps when I first saw it.

((Are you kidding me this is so amazing and so well-done. Personally I haven't felt this passionate about an anime opening in a while and it feels awesome.))

Then, there're my thoughts around the blurry line between what is for 'shonen' and what is for 'adult/ippan' audiences.
The magazine the manga is serialized is a 'shonen' genre, but its selling point is that it focuses on dark fantasy/grittier content, so the target audience is slightly older (probably the older end of teens).
The anime is aired on a late-night slot, which in theory means that the original 'teen' audience is excluded. But in the anime version, the violence and gore of the manga is subdued in some forms (obviously, since the medium means the casual viewer can stumble across it and so it has to keep in mind a more varied viewership).
The franchise seems to have a bit of a confusion in terms of target audience, probably due to its immense popularity and its need to cater to the widest possible audience range. I just feel that there is a reason why 'Attack on Titan' was not serialized on a seinen/ippan (general audience) magazine, and that through multi-platform extensions and extensive media attention, it's actually losing that core 'older teen' audience. Maybe I'm thinking too much.

((And I'm not even gonna start about the North American market and how things like 'Attack on Titan' would never fly here because of cultural perceptions around the medium and whatnot.))


Apples To Ostriches

So you remember maybe about that teen-targeted webseries I mentioned in that last post?Yeah, that took over my life. Everyone's lives, to be precise.
All 19 of us. (there are 19 people in our class)

You know what, despite the days when I thought about setting some paperwork on fire, or wanting to eat a carton of ice cream in one go (kinda did that, actually), it was a rollercoaster of learning.
I also love my classmates even more. They are a truly talented, amazing bunch.
(We even did a live show! How fan-effing-tastic is it that we pulled it off!)
All this, on top of regular school work and our personal lives (not that I have much to begin with, but y'know).
And after several days of sleep, food, and mildly violent video games, I feel like I'm human again. Which means I need to clean my apartment.

The series is called Apples to Ostriches, and you can check it out here:

And here are some social media links!

It's been a silent month on this blog, but May will be much better, I promise. Regular Japanese TV and sumo and book ramblings shall resume. I've got a lot of stuff on my mind...
((Oh, and on an somewhat unrelated note, here's my 'Booklog' account that I've been tinkering with. It's where you can keep record of what you've read, and also post reviews. Now the world can see my skewered, cray cray reading habits! http://booklog.jp/users/annamachizawa ))



This week has been hectic.
The program I'm in (Children's Entertainment) is putting together a half-hour webisode (I know that sounds rather uncommon but there's a long story to it) to be released every week, for a total of 5 episodes.
Filming for Episode 1 just finished today, and by golly was it one heck of a roller coaster ride for everyone.
More notes about that sometime soon.

So, today let's talk about a little bit about Nintama Rantarou.
Nintama Rantarou is a long-running 10minute short tv animation series that's been around ever since I was little. It focuses on three 10-year-old boys who are ninjas-in-training at a school specifically for training ninjas. It's very kid-friendly, and the original comics are also running to this day and are popular as well.

It can be cheesy, it can be corny, but there's a lot of heart and good morale, thanks to NHK (Japan's public broadcaster). I mean, it's a very solid show, so well-loved by a wide audience range with a secure fanbase (child and adult alike).

I stumbled upon the opening credits video on the internets a while back and I've been hooked since. Well, back to it after a long hiatus. I grew up with it, then I was too cool for it, then for some reason in my senior year of high school I fell for it again, then forgot about it through my university years.
Now, I have remembered my love for this series.

What really appeals to me (and to the general audience, I believe,) is the never-changing child perspective. Of course there are a few adult-centric episodes, but the majority of them are focused on the child protagonists and their mishaps or troubles or adventures. They are never vessels for an adult agenda (or at least, it's very well calculated). And because it's an NHK program, there's that sense of security and safety, especially for people like me who grew up on NHK shows like Nintama Rantarou.

A unique thing is that this show is set in the Muromachi period, a time in Japan feudal wars and such were not uncommon - the school for ninjas indicate a demand for ninjas who infiltrate and take down enemy bases. Essentially, a school for violence (as North American ethics would put it). Kids handle firearms and blades and stuff themselves - the younger students will have teachers supervising, but many of the upper-years will be seen walking around with guns and snakes and shuriken (throwing knives). This would never be seen in North American TV...
As a child-oriented anime series, battles are depicted in ways that makes it clear they are 'dangerous', but not so to outright threaten the audience. But through the episodes that deal with the ongoing battles all over the place (which are sparse and far-between), it tells a story about ethics and morale and good character without being overbearing or patronizing.
On the other hand, one of the protagonists, Kirimaru, is clearly stated that he is an war orphan, and that he stays with a teacher during the holidays. But rather than making his story sad and melodramatic, it shows Kirimaru always very positive and very eager to live through anything (portrayed through his intense and excessive obsession towards money).

The series is actually very layered (moreso in the original manga) and sometimes even quite challenging, but overall it is very safe and appropriate for children (5-10) to watch.
I really think this show is a gem. It's such fun to watch, and really, isn't that what's important?


What spring means

I've been thinking lately about spring. Yes, it's getting warmer and the days are longer (curse you, daylight savings thing that makes us lose an hour).

But it's more than that.

I mean, firstly, there is the earthquake from 2011. March makes us feel (well, I feel) very somber and conscious about life.
The theme of life and death, sadly enough, fits in with the season.
Japan has the tradition of ending the school/fiscal year in March, and so spring is associated with the end of something as much as the start of something new. It's when everything changes. Graduation season starts around late February, and schools and new recruits in companies start their year in late March-early April. Sure, there are happy things like cherry blossoms, the flower viewing parties (called ohanami), and the sudden increase in pastel colored clothing on girls.
Spring is, in the end, a bittersweet season.

But here, in Canada, I feel something upbeat.
To roughly sum up what I've heard or overheard, spring is the anticipation of more warm weather, which means you can drink beer outside and do campfires and have barbecues. It's much more straightforward in enjoying the season and what it offers.
There's also Easter, which I don't get.

I don't even really know anymore what I wanted to say.
What I meant, I guess, is that spring isn't necessarily always a joyous thing. It makes you think, it can make you sad, it means the end as much as a start.
And maybe Japan has this thing about seeing beauty in sadness. Spring and cherry blossoms aren't just pretty, they're also inexplicably melancholic.

Maybe I'm just missing home, and the complexities and subtleties of the world I grew up in.


Some Sumo Rambles

I'm having a great time - it's March break - sleeping in a lot and playing semi-violent video games on my PSP for hours on end. By golly, I needed that time off.

Anyway, since I have this time, today I'll ramble a bit about sumo.

It was May of 2010, I was back in Japan for the summer, and I happened to be channel-surfing on the TV when I came across the sumo broadcast on NHK. And just like that, I was hooked.
(I was able to see that tournament just before it finished).
My relatives make this weird face and ask 'why do you like sumo so much when you're a woman in your 20s (apart from the fact that you're the family oddball)?'. And I can never succinctly say why or what really draws me, in Japanese. It's really weird, what I can express in one language but not in the other.

What draws me isn't just the homosocial, sexist, super closed-minded nature of the Sumo world (sorry, not hating on it I swear - it's just that kind of problematic tradition and culture...). It's more about the philosophy and abstract spirituality that grounds the sport, as much as it is about the live people who embody it in this age and time.
I guess it boils down to the spiritual. It's very fleeting, it's limited to that specific moment in time, between two people that an outsider can never truly understand. It's the performance, the art of playing the role that is a wrestler. And because it has such a spiritual (religious) backbone, the wrestlers at that moment is like a living representation of that spirituality. And I think that's fascinating.
Oh, and it's just really exciting, to see this one-on-one battle of wits, speed, and strength unfold right before your eyes. It's about two individuals, and the rest of the world does not matter to them. There's something so intriguing about a world you cannot enter.
Plus, I have got to admit, there's something beautiful and majestic in the whole ritual and performance surrounding the sport. It really is a big, wonderful performance.

What this all means is that I'm super jealous I can't go see the Osaka tournament. My recent favorites are Takayasu and Houmashou and Ami-tan (Aminishiki), but it's not for any real reason (I just happened to see them on TV or on the official internet streams). I JUST REALLY WANT TO GO SEE OK?
I'll get in to how it's awesome that sumo is getting back on track and stuff, but that will have to wait for another day.


Tokusatsu (1): the one with a lot of horses

It's been a rough week... But yay, here's #1 of the tokusatsu musing series!
Let's start with Gingaman.

Seijuu Sentai Gingman (1998-9) is the first Super Sentai title that I consciously remember watching.
This is probably because:
  • Shoei, who played Gouki (Ginga Blue), became popular a few years after that so he remained intact in my memory.
  • Hikaru (Ginga Yellow) was my super favorite.
  • Super tacky 90s 'fantasy' costumes.
  • Horses.
  • Horses.
The premise was that a magical tribe in the woods get attacked by evil forces and is rendered immobile. Five teens from the tribe escaped the attack and seeks refuge at a normal farm, where they get by in the modern world and try to figure out a way to restore their tribe.
That's a really terrible and rough summary, so please wiki it for details.

So they were staying at a farm. And they had horses. I remember with vivid clarity of having a Ginga Yellow figurine that came with a toy horse. A. TOY. HORSE. It looked pretty fab, to be honest. That was super cool for me. Despite being the perfect age for it (8 years old), I'm a girl, and Super Sentai isn't for girls. And I was totally into Gingaman more than my brother (who was about 6 but still the right age for Super Sentai). Maybe it was the whole animal theme of this title, but it was really easy for me to get into.

What also stood out was the craziness of their outfits. Not the power suits - their 'regular clothes'. They were all vivid colors and clunky tribal patterns and so obviously weirdly artificial in the cheesy 90s way (despite the premise that they're a magical nature-based tribe). It stood out so much from the rest of the 'modern' setting. I can't explain why or how, but goodness I loved Hikaru's outfit.
(I might even say that Hikaru might've been my first TV crush, but that's here nor there.)

So yup, visuals are really crucial. And if you're in the 90s, tacky costumes can really work to your advantage in grabbing eyeballs (in a non-sarcastic way). Really, I still dig Hikaru's outfit. So much. And I love Gingaman because of the absolutely cute and lighthearted concept (in the first-half, at least), and the brightness brought on by them tacky costumes. Also horses.
In my opinion, Gingaman is an example of being happy and lighthearted isn't a bad way to go even in aspirational shows like the Super Sentai titles.

I'll rant more about the "aspirational" element some time soon...


Let's start this again.

I made a blog late last month. That was good.
And then I changed my email address and things got confusing.

Thank goodness it's only been a month. Let's start this again.
I'm just going to repost the posts from that blog so there's going to be continuity.

Ah, internet. It's so hard to get myself organized with so many email addresses and profiles and all that. Trying to be an adult and getting myself together online... it's tough.


'Obligatory' Chocolates

Happy Valentine's Day, I guess.

To get straight to the point today, Japan's views on Valentine's Day has evolved into a monster that is totally independent from what it actually is, was, or at least what it's understood to be in the English speaking world.
Valentine's Day in Japan isn't about sending or making Valentine's cards along with chocolate - it's all about those darn chocolates.

Oh it's the season of war, for girls. Valentine's is used as an opportunity for girls to give chocolate to their crush and effectively profess her love (to hopefully snag that man for herself). The popular guys get chocolates from many, many girls - the 'guy with a truckload of chocolates on V-Day' is a fiction trope.
And that the custom of handing out chocolates escalated. Escalated, I tell you. You don't necessarily only give to your romantic partner/that guy you're after, and male family members.
There's the 'friend chocolates' that you hand out to your girl friends to solidify and reaffirm your relationships a concrete way.

And then there's the whole thing of 'obligatory' or 'duty' chocolates to coworkers/classmates/guy friends. These chocolates are a few ranks lower in quality or care taken to make/buy and are distributed at quite a quantity. There was a recent article on the internets about how male coworkers are disappointed if a female worker does not hand out 'obligatory' chocolates on Valentine's. They actually expect these chocolates from women.

So the distribution of chocolates on Valentine's day to everyone around her is quite literally, a duty a woman has to perform in order to be legitimated and considered good/thoughtful in the male world. It's a day where women have to reaffirm stereotypical feminine qualities of giving, caring, and mindful of others. Emphasis on the 'giving (to males)' part. These chocolates are no longer about love or compassion, but about social relationship-building/managing in a very gender-specific pattern.

And so, Valentine's Day is a major event for girls. Many stress (or be high up in the clouds) over the perfect chocolate they're gonna give to their (potential) man, as much as over what to mass-distribute to all them other people in their lives. What I'm getting at is, Valentine's is such a complicated and problematic event in Japan. *sigh*

This year I've got amazing friends who have shown me much kindness, and for once in my life I'm enjoying my birthday. And I've got a birthday twin, which is super awesome.
Aw yeah, happy birthday Jess!!!


Tokusatsu (0): Prelude

I love tokusatsu. I just love it so much.
So much that I'm gonna make it an irregular series thing where I spew out reviews and opinions and stuff like that. Because holy crap, I have a lot to say.

Tokusatsu means 'special effects filming/shooting'. As a genre, to put it really roughly, it refers to stuff like Godzilla or King Kong or Power Rangers - live-action using costume suits and such. I think wiki is much better at explaining this.
The tokusatsu stuff, especially the Kamen Rider series, Ultraman series, and the Super Sentai series (origin series of the US Power Rangers), are now a staple in the Japanese boys' action market. The tokusatsu stuff have a long and interesting history, and gives insight into the ups and downs of children's TV in Japan.
Oh, it's brilliant.

So let me start off with a short spiel about my experience with the Super Sentai series.
I clearly remember watching Seijuu Sentai Gingaman (1998-9) up to Hyakuju Sentai Gaoranger (2001-2). Then I got 'too cool' for that until Enjin Sentai Go-Onger (2008-9) snagged my heart again in my senior year at high school. The next two titles, Samurai Sentai Shinkenger (2009-10) and Tensou Sentai Goseiger (2010-1), I've only seen on and off since I've been in Canada. I'm rather lost with the last two titles, Kaizoku Sentai Gokaiger (2011-2) and Tokumei Sentai Go-Busters (2012-3).
Now I'm super excited for the most recent one, Juuden Sentai Kyouryuger (starting this weekend on the 17th!!).
And I've gotten myself back into the Super Sentai, and I'm getting super into the titles I didn't watch in real time (2003-6). It's tearing my heart apart because it's so GOOD. I feel like an 8 year old again.

Not sure where to start my next rant from. Maybe from the very beginning, Gingaman...



Let me ramble a bit about Kaoru Takamura's Liou (李歐) today.
I bought it on a whim in 2009, and something in me definitely exploded with this book. It's one of those books that's so cathartic, eye-opening and soul-shattering that you know it's going to have a lasting place in your heart.

The story is about a Japanese man (the emotionally compromised Kazuaki) and a Chinese man (the magnetic, charismatic, beautifully enigmatic Liou), whose lives are inexplicably twined somewhere deep at the soul. The prose is cold, even merciless, in cutting deep into the dregs of the modern man. It's ruthless. There's no shame or hesitation in her words. The intensity of emotions, the human condition, and a love that has no name - they're all scrutinized and diced apart to the bare bones. And if that's not cathartic, I don't know what is.

And Kazuaki, despite his lack of open emotions, is still so human in his flaws and passions. The way his veins expand when he can feel Liou's soul feels so genuine and close and alive. Like I'm in synch with Kazuaki's beating heart and vicariously feeling Liou's blood through him. The emotions are almost tactile. Vivid, fantastical, and even magical, despite the gritty language. That feeling is so intimate and breathtaking, made all the more special because at the core it's not even real - they're fictional characters that I'm recreating in my mind through printed words on a page. I feel as if I have to treasure this experience.

Every language is unique, and every language is beautiful in their own way.
What I love about Kaoru Takamura's use of language is that under the detached, almost clinical dissection of her characters, there is always a rawness, something base and emotional that easily gives way into the magical. It runs through the book like the blood running through Kazuaki and Liou and everyone.
I don't think this book has been translated into English. It's a shame. And yet, a different language cannot truly encompass the sensibilities and subtleties of the original. Rather than it be a poor job, maybe, just maybe, it's best left alone.

(On the other hand, I know I come from the advantage of knowing two languages.)


Chocolates and blog anxieties

I keep on writing things, save them to draft, edit repeatedly, and never publish them. I have a bad habit of going on and on so my writing is never concise or succinct. That's the problem with writing about your interests - you think about it so much, you want to tell it all. I don't talk so well in person (I think I left my social skills in kindergarten) so I think too much, and I tend to write in a stream of consciousness style - neither of these really help at all. I also have very extreme writing skills - either incoherent stream-of-thought, or uptight academic writing. I can never a good in-between, something casual.
I think it's also clear that I can't do humor.

So I'll be short. Let me start with... chocolate?
Yeah, chocolate's a good topic. There can never be enough chocolate in my life.
Ok that's not true, my cravings ebb and flow, but I think you get the point. This is not because my birthday is on Valentine's Day. I just have a hereditary sweet tooth from my father's side. Valentine's Day in Japan is a whole other issue, so that'll have to wait for another day.

All I'm thinking right now is how I want strawberry chocolate and it's only 9 in the morning. I don't know why or how, but chocolates here (in North America) and chocolates in Japan taste so different. Both are very good, but they're so... different. There's no other way to put it. Someone must have done a study on chocolates around the world. I think I should look it up.

I will appreciate hot chocolate too... I just really want something sweet today.



Omoitatta ga kichijitsu.

To put it really roughly, it means 'if you think of doing something, do it right away (on that day)'. What we learned today in class was be responsible, be a purple cow, and start a blog.

So, I'll start a blog.

To give fair warning, I'll post a mix of English and Japanese (because that's just how I roll) in terms of both content and topic. I will occasionally succumb to unintelligible blabber and nonsense. There will be lots of children's content involved. I will also wax poetic about food and books.

I still don't know where this will go, but let's see for now.